Just about everyone on the Boston Red Sox had a good year in 2019, and that certainly includes Xander Bogaerts. In fact, because of all the star players around him, a lot of people overlooked just how good he was. In what easily the best year of his young career, Bogaerts finished 2018 posting a .288/.360/.522 slash line and an accompanying 133 wRC+. Entering his age-26 season, can the young shortstop put together another strong campaign?
Boston Red Sox 2019 Preview: Xander Bogaerts
Bogaerts had a great 2018, but was it sustainable? Bogaerts’ numbers look amazing on the surface, but sometimes you need to dig deeper to see how real the success was. Fortunately, just about everything Bogaerts did in 2019 appears to be sustainable. While there’s no sure-fire way to predict future success, advanced statistics can give a good idea as to whether or not a performance can be repeated.
Fortunately, most of Bogaerts’ 2018 production appears to be sustainable. Let’s start by taking a look at his BABIP, or batting average on balls in play. As its’ name implies, this statistic is used to record if a ball in play results in a hit or an out. While contact type and baserunning ability does influence this number, dumb luck also has a lot to do with it.
Bogaerts finished 2018 with a .317 BABIP, which is slightly above the league average. However, he has a career .332 BABIP, which means he wasn’t getting lucky with batted balls. If anything, he was a little unlucky. This shows that he was getting on base as much as one would expect when he put the ball in play, and that should stick in 2019.
Next, let’s look at the type of contact Bogaerts made in 2018. This data is pretty easy to understand. Ideally, a hitter will hit the ball hard and put the ball in the air. According to Fangraphs, Bogaerts did well in both categories last season. Bogaerts’ fly ball percentage was the second-highest of his career and his soft contact rate was the lowest of his career.
These numbers show that Bogaerts’ success wasn’t a fluke last year, and should carry over to 2019 in some capacity. His fly ball rate has increased in each of the past three years while his soft contact rate has decreased every year during that timeframe. Basically, he’s being a better hitter year after year and should continue to grow in 2019.
2018 was easily the most complete year of Bogaerts’ career, and his main goal should be proving he can remain productive over the course of an entire season. Early in his career, Bogaerts was highly susceptible to a second-half slump. He avoided this in 2018, as he was basically the same hitter in the first half of the season (134 wRC+) as he was in the second half (132 wRC+).
However, 2018 was was something of an outlier in that regard. Through the first four years of his career, Bogaerts had a fairly significant split between his first- and second-half numbers. From 2013-2017, Bogaerts posted a .293/.350/.421 slash line with a 107 wRC+ during the first half of seasons. In the second half, those numbers drop to .271/.326/.396 with a 93 wRC+.
Bogaerts needs to show that his consistency throughout 2018 wasn’t a fluke. At his best, the 26-year old is a borderline top-five shortstop in a league stacked with young, talented shortstops. However, when he’s bad at the plate, he doesn’t offer much value. Bogaerts is decent on the bases and adequate with the glove, but his bat is always what will make him special.
Steamer Projections expects Bogaerts to take a bit of a step back from his career season. Overall, the projection website expects Bogaerts to finish 2019 with a .286/.355/.464 slash line and a 118 wRC+. While this is a decent drop from what he did in 2018, it would still be the second-best offensive season of his career.
What’s most interesting about this projection is that Steamer expects Bogaerts to lose a lot of his extra base power. Last year, Bogaerts hit 71 extra base hits, including 23 home runs. In 2019, Steamer projects Bogaerts to hit just 59 extra base hits, including 20 home runs.
This seems odd, as Bogaerts has always been good at getting doubles. With Alex Cora and his launch angle philosophy in town, Bogaerts should be able to keep his power profile while adding on more doubles than Steamer projects. His batting average and on-base projections look about right, but he should finish the year with a slugging percentage above the projected .464. He may not repeat last years heroics, but he should remain one of the best hitters in one of the deepest lineups in baseball.
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